“Starving, Angry and Cannibalistic: America’s Rats Are
Getting Desperate Amid Coronavirus Pandemic.”
No, we didn’t make up this terrifying headline. It’s 100% real and comes to us from NBC News. It’s an attention-grabber no doubt, but after two months of 24/7, wall-to-wall Pandemic news, is this sort of thing really what we want? The rational side of our brain says surely not, but our curious, guilty pleasure gremlin can’t move fast enough to click and read.
We all do it, but why? Isn’t all this scary, depressing, negative news starting to drive us all crazy, and what can we do to break the habit?
A recent survey by the American Psychological Association found that too much news can have a downside. Time Magazine noted that more than half of Americans say the news causes them stress, and many report feeling anxiety, fatigue or sleep loss as a result.
Yet one in 10 adults checks the news every hour, and fully 20% of Americans report constantly monitoring their social media feeds—which often exposes them to the latest news headlines, whether they like it or not.
This focus on negative news is a conundrum, but don’t be too quick to beat yourself up. Paying more attention to the negative rather than positive may be evolutionary hardwiring from our ancient human relatives: a way for our brain to keep us safe. Scientists call it “Negativity Bias.”
According to Psychology Today, “From the dawn of human history, our very survival depended on our skill at dodging danger. The brain developed systems that would make it unavoidable for us not to notice danger and thus, hopefully, respond to it.”
Our capacity to weigh negative input so heavily most likely evolved for a good reason—to keep us out of harm’s way.
The COVID-19 crisis is about as serious as it gets, and we all want to stay informed. But a constant onslaught of negative news can’t help but darken our moods and it takes a deliberate effort to break the chain. We’ve had a few weeks to think about it, and came up with 5 tactics that are working for us.
1. Read or watch only enough news to be informed. Once we’re up to date on the essentials of what’s happening, we move on to other activities. For us, that usually means checking the news a couple of times each day. This sounds simple enough, but it actually takes conscious thought and effort. We ask ourselves the question: Is this new, pertinent information, or just a rehash of something we’ve seen before?
2. Put some topics on the “moratorium” list. If it truly raises your hackles, just don’t read it. For instance: there are a few high-profile politicians that never seem to add anything helpful to the conversation, and in the meantime, their counterproductive antics just raise our blood pressure. We’ve decided we can happily do without these stories, and we avoid them altogether. Once again, easy to say, but not so easy to do without a bit of attention.
3. Get the whole story. Headlines are designed to get our attention, and whether they intrigue or upset us, we make sure that we investigate enough to get the whole story. In a previous post we talked about not falling for clickbait headlines, and we try to practice what we preach.
4. Find positive substitutes for depressing news. Before COVID-19 assaulted the world, we all had fun interests and hobbies that kept us entertained in positive ways. Don’t let non-stop, distressing news drag you down. The internet is a window on the world with an unlimited supply of new, rewarding pursuits, and they’re only a few clicks away.
5. Bookmark a few “Good News Websites.” For a breath of fresh air, there are a few news websites that keep you informed without an overemphasis on the negative stuff. Their tagline says it all: “A daily dose of good news.”
Everyone on the planet has been impacted by the coronavirus crisis, so it’s unreasonable to think there will always be a positive spin on the news. You can’t control what gets published, but you can control what you read and how it influences you. With a little effort and focus you can stay informed, remain upbeat, and keep your sanity to ride out the Pandemic.
Have a tip for conquering the news beast? We’d love to hear it.
Good Health and Good News,
James & Terri
Photo Credits: 1. The Creative Exchange 2. Pop & Zebra 3. James Frewin 4. Keenan Constance 5. Jay Clark 6. Orlando Gutierrez 7. Naren Morum 8. Jorge Gardner 9. Elijah O’Donnell 10. Lora Ohanessian 11. Jon Tyson